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New Delhi’s counter-invitation to Kartarpur talks is a “childish” response to Islamabad’s peace initiative-foreign office


News Desk |

On Thursday, Dr. Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson of the Foreign Office rebuked India’s “childish” response to Islamabad’s invitation to hold talks on the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. He stated that Pakistan will greet this disappointment with a “mature” response.

This week, Pakistan had initiated developments on the Kartarpur corridor by sending a draft of the proposal to India, inviting representatives to finalize the negotiations. The Foreign Office issued a statement that reinstated Pakistan’s goal to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims with a visa-free corridor to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Narowal.

Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, the most sacred Sikh monument and final resting place of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, has been denied to the Sikh pilgrims of India since partition.

Instead of accepting the proposal, or even rejecting it for that matter, India issued a counter-invitation to Islamabad. The Indian ministry of external affairs issued a statement that said, “India has also proposed two sets of dates, 26 February and 7 March 2019, for the visit of Pakistan delegation to New Delhi to discuss and finalize the modalities so that the Indian pilgrims can visit the holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor at the earliest.”

In November 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan performed the groundbreaking ceremony that initiated the development of the Kartarpur Corridor, and Islamabad seeks to secure this development as a prelude to undermining the trust deficit with India, while the Modi-led government adamantly refuses to resume bilateral talks with Pakistan.

Read more: Kartarpur Corridor: Indian nation praises PM Khan

Pakistan is all set to develop the Kartarpur corridor, which will sprawl over four kilometers, connecting one of the most sensitive Pak-India borders with the Gurdwara in Kartarpur. As per the proposal, India will undertake the construction of developing the corridor that connects the border with Dera Baba Nanak in the Gurdaspur district of East Punjab.

The Significance of the Kartarpur Corridor

Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, the most sacred Sikh monument and final resting place of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, has been denied to the Sikh pilgrims of India since partition. Standing at a meager distance of barely 4 kilometers from the Pak-Indian border, it is situated in the Narowal district of Punjab.

In response to “New Delhi’s baseless allegations of infiltration from Pakistan”, he raised the question of the ceasefire violations conducted by India alongside the LOC.

Located on the opposite banks of Ravi, is the Gurdaspur district of Indian Punjab, which is the holy town of Dera Baba Nanak and Gurdawara Shri Darbar Sahib, linked to the early life and family of Guru Nanak. For decades, the divisions made by the Radcliffe Line, etched back in August 1947, has made it unfavorable for any Sikh or Muslim to undertake religious pilgrimages across the border.

The Sikh community of India has been cut-off from the most prestigious shrine of their religious heritage, the resting place of the founder of their religion. Most of the Sikh heritage and significant shrines fell predominantly in Pakistan after the partition in 1947, and the proposal of forming the Kartarpur corridor is being debated for over fifty years.

It first emerged on the table in 1998, when the two countries principally agreed to create a corridor in Kartarpur Sahib, and later it was formally introduced in 1999. However, given the insecurities perceived by both, Pakistan and India, and their history of mistrust, this proposal was never cemented.

Read more: Indian FM ruins the happy air: Kartarpur doesn’t mean dialogue

The absence of a corridor that would allow them to travel to the shrine of Guru Nanak, the Sikh devotees would gather against the border fence offer their prayers while looking at the temple from afar. In November, Prime Minister Imran made promises to provide Sikh pilgrims with modern amenities and a well-constructed visa-free corridor, an announcement that has met with great enthusiasm by the Sikh community of India.

New Delhi’s Counter-Invitation & Islamabad’s Pleas for Peace

Throughout the tenure of Prime Minister Modi, the Indian Foreign office has lauded its supposed concerns of “terrorism” and Islamabad’s “refusal to address these concerns” as an excuse to avoid resuming bilateral talks with Pakistan. The Modi-led government has regarded PM Imran Khan’s proposal to open the Kartarpur Corridor and establish a visa-free route with “suspiciousness”. Even though the proposal for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak was accepted “out of domestic compulsions and pressure”, it was met with great suspicion.

India has proposed two dates for the meeting, either 26th February or 7th March, and diplomatic reports reveal that Prime Minister Imran Khan has yet to make a final decision.

Despite urging Islamabad to “expedite the construction of the Kartarpur Corridor”, Sushma Swaraj the Indian minister of External Affairs, not only declined the invitation to attend the groundbreaking ceremony back in November but also made it clear that this event is not tied to the possibility of bilateral talks. She is reported to have said, “the moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, the dialogue can start but the dialogue is not connected with only the Kartarpur corridor.”

During a weekly media briefing by the Foreign Office last week, spokesperson Dr.  Mohammad Faisal highlighted the strenuous relationship between India and Pakistan, and commented that Pakistan’s “efforts for normalization” are not meeting progress because “India is not willing to engage with Pakistan.”

Read more: Kartarpur Corridor: A new hope for peace

In response to “New Delhi’s baseless allegations of infiltration from Pakistan”, he raised the question of the ceasefire violations conducted by India alongside the LOC. He said, “Indian mal-intent is also apparent from their repeated ceasefire violations instead of using the hotline contact between both sides.”

Now, New Delhi has responded to Pakistan’s invitation that required India to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad” for further negotiations on the Kartarpur Corridor with a counter-invitation of its own. Analysts have concluded that appears to be an Indian ploy of avoiding the challenge between responding to Islamabad’s invitation for dialogue and outright rejection of the proposal.

India has proposed two dates for the meeting, either 26th February or 7th March, and diplomatic reports reveal that Prime Minister Imran Khan has yet to make a final decision. During an interview to BBC News, South Asian analyst Michael Kugelman regarded the groundbreaking of the Kartarpur corridor as a “significant” feat, but he stressed that lauding it as a prelude to the peace process would be “wrong”.

Read more: How Pakistan outsmarted India using soft diplomacy?

He is quoted to have said, “It’s a confidence-building measure but at the end of the day India and Pakistan are still at loggerheads”. He further added: “It is politically risky for the Indian government, particularly for a Hindu nationalist government like the current one, to extend an olive branch to Pakistan during the height of campaign season.”

Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.

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